Editor's Note: In the second annual CultureMap Auto Awards, our automotive correspondents Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top cars and trucks of 2013/2014 and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. For our second award of the year:
Crossover Utility Vehicle of the Year: 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
We were big fans of Hyundai's all new SantaFe Sport in our annual awards last year, giving it the runner-up in category. This year Hyundai brought us the longer wheelbase, "full-size Santa Fe," taking our top spot as biggest proves to be better in Crossovers. Not that Santa Fe is huge; it's less than 10 inches longer than the Sport, but we think it's right-sized, with three-rows of seating, a spacious, airy interior that, at 160.0 cubic-feet, is one of the largest interior volumes in class.
The SantaFe is right-sized, with three-rows of seating, a spacious, airy interior that is one of the largest interior volumes in class.
The Santa Fe is handsomely styled inside and out, successfully bridging the gap between bland economy people movers and far more expensive luxury options without giving up too much. Available is a panoramic power glass roof, proximity smart key access, Hyundai blueLink telematics, heated and cooled leather seats in four tasteful colors and a choice of a 40/20/40 split-folding bench seat or captain's chairs for the second row seating. Even base models come well equipped with heated cloth seats trimmed in innovative YES Essentials®, stain-resistant, anti-static fabric, color audio display and rearview camera.
Also new is a standard 3.3L V-6 engine with direct fuel injection it gives a class-leading 290 horsepower and mated to a smooth shifting 6-speed automatic, it's EPA rated to 25 mpg highway. That fuel economy is mid-pack in the segment, but weighting some 400 pounds less than it's competitors, the Santa Fe drives more nimbly with less hefty to shift about.
Starting just under $30,000 and backed by a 5-year/60,000 mile new vehicle warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, Santa Fe is a clear value winner.
CUV of the Year Runner-up: 2014 FIAT 500L
In keeping with the bigger but not too much bigger theme, our runner-up in the crossover utility category isn't really a crossover at all... or is it? The 500L is FIAT's answer to a larger, more passenger and stuff friendly version of the stylish super-sub-compact 500 and it's an interesting package. Outside it's nearly two feet longer than the 500, but remains short overall, more than 10 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape CUV. Yet inside the 500L is a 100 cubic-foot cavern slotting right between the conventional RAV's 101 and Escape's 98 cubic-feet volumes.
It's shape may look a little funny, but we chalk that up to the "Italian Cinquecento charm" of the 500. It's a breath of fresh air in a generally boring box utility vehicle space. Driving the 500L is equally unique, with all models getting the growly 1.4L MultiAir turbo four-cylinder engine from the 500 Abarth hot hatch and a 6-speed manual option and while is top heavy, it's about driving character which is, well, fun! There are four trims with the "Trekking" model taking on a more utilitarian outfitting befitting its boxy profile.
Pricing starts at just $19,995 and in the mid-$20's you get all the options. Also consider that EPA estimates fuel economy at 25 mpg city/33 highway, easily besting more conventional CUV's.